We are led into the living room by the patient's daughter, she shows us her mother – small, birdlike and perched in a chair. A tiny thing of skin and bones in a nightdress, head bent over, not making eye contact.
The GP had called us, the daughter handed me the letter the GP had left.
'Weight loss, chest infection, depression. Lost the will to live'. The letter said more, polite words to introduce this woman to the doctor at the hospital, but this is what it boiled down to.
Barely able to stand, unable to walk, we had been called to take this woman into hospital.
We explained what we were going to do and lifted her incredibly light body into our carry chair. Younger than my mother, but looking so much older we wrapped her in a blanket to keep her warm.
Into the ambulance and the normal tests were run, pulse, temperature, blood sugar. We took her blood pressure, her arm so thin we had to use the cuff we normally use for small children. Through this poking and prodding the head never lifted up, the eyes barely opened, the mouth spoke no words. Her vital signs were normal, this was an illness of the mind.
You can tell when there is someone with depression in the room, it is an aura that all but the most oblivious can notice – the people around them talk quietly, walk softly, try not to disturb them. No-one wants to say the wrong thing, hurt the person more than they are already hurting.
The ambulance moves off and I start with some simple questions, yes or no answers, my voice kept soft.
She answers and emboldened I start to talk to her about other things. Slowly her eyes open and her head lifts up. She tells me about tragedies, about illness, about loss. When you have depression it is impossible to remember the good times, only the times that keep you low, under the thumb of this illness.
I wish there was something I could say to make her feel better, but I know that nothing I say can help. I want to tell her that it will be all right, that one day she will feel happier – but I can't say that because it probably isn't true. I can make sick people happier just by talking with them, but I know that this illness has me beaten. She will sit there and she will refuse food and she will probably die.
And I feel powerless to help her.
This is the second attempt at this, the first one vanished into the ether and was, I think, a lot better than this post.